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Founding Father of Modern Technology Passes

You may not have heard of Jack Kilby, but if you've ever owned a hand-held calculator, digital watch or a personal computer -- and who hasn't -- you've felt his presence in the tech world. Kilby, who created the first integrated circuit that made virtually all of tech innovations we take for granted a reality, died earlier this week at age 81 after a brief bout with cancer.

Kilby's career began almost 60 years ago, the same year Bell Laboratories introduced the transistor. A little more than a decade later, he jumped to Texas Instruments (TI) where the Dallas-based company had been wrestling with developing more complex circuit boards, but without success.

As the story goes, Kilby, as a new TI employee, had earned no vacation time, so he was left stranded in the office during the company's annual two-week summer closure. Kilby certainly put his spare time to good use, melding all those transistors and capacitors into a single part about half the size of a paperclip. After demonstrating his invention for company executives, the integrated circuit debuted in March 1959.

Funny thing is, Robert Noyce, a scientist working for a semiconductor firm, was working on the same thing, only incorporating silicon into his design, and filed a patent a half-year after Kilby did. Eventually, both inventors and companies shared the credit and royalties. Kilby received numerous honors during his career, the most prestigious of them were the National Medal of Technology in 1990 and the Nobel Prize in 2000. Noyce did OK too: He eventually co-founded Intel.

Kilby's sense of wonder seemingly never waned. He was amazed one of his many innovations -- a $500 handheld calculator he invented for TI in the early 60s -- can be routinely found just about anywhere for $5.

Makes you wonder when and where our next "Kilby" will come from...

USA Today June 22, 2005

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